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Saturday, May 29, 2004

(Korean language) Latin character signs for Seoul bus lines

I read from Ohmynews that Seoul is going to (or has it already?) redesigned bus lines into four groups marked with a distinct color and a Latin character (G, B, R and Y, from the English words for the four colors).
• First, kudos for the Ohmynews writer for using mostly the word romaja in the article. For a non-English speaker, to get to the point of being apathetic when seeing one's own writing, that is letters, characters, to be called "English" has been mentally painful. But it is good to see every now and then someone to make a difference between language (mal) and writing (kûl / geul).
• Improving the outlook of Seoul buses (or downtown buses anywhere in Korea) is a welcome project; it's not only facelift that the bus traffic in Seoul needs, but that's one facet.
• Marking bus lines with only Latin characters is something I don't want to accept. It's true that Latin characters have become much more common method of writing that han'geul purists want to acknowledge, and acknowleding the fact that Lating characters are a part of writing systems in Korea is timely, but using only Lating characters in a public service system like buses is not acceptable. Shops may be free to put any kind of signboards they like, but buses are different. Not using the Korean script in marking bus lines is not right kind of modernization.
It is also a matter of linguistic equality for the Korean citizens.

In the bottom of the article there's a reply from the Seoul authorities:
• They are meant to be symbols for the colors rather than characters to be read. The colors and letter symbols were determined to be better designations than Chinese-character words difficult to understand (chisôn, kansôn). The decision was made after wide consultations and collection of opinions from citizens. The redesign operation is being done in 58 bus companies for 8100 vehicles and in 144 "village bus" (maûl pôsû) companies for 1600 vehicles, so it'd be difficult to make changes at this stage. (End of the reply of Seoul authorities.)

Another example of adjusting the domestic language usage to the perceived needs of foreigners. The language cop inside me couldn't help being irritated by the clearly false use of language in a station announcement in a local commuter train here. The adessive ending -ssa (or -ssä) had been omitted where it should have been; I enquired about this from the National Railways, and the answer was that it was thought that it'd be easier for the foreigners to understand the station names in their basic forms! The logic is that "the foreigners" would miss the stations if the announcement went Huopalahdessa ja Pasilassa (at Huopalahti and at Pasila) instead of the now chosen Huopalahti ja Pasila.

Update 2. Media Daum has a Yonhap article, in which the meanings of the four kinds of bus lines, distinguished by the four colors, are explained.
Blue: main lines (kansôn). The longest and most zigzagging routes are rearraigned and straightened.
Green: branch lines (chisôn).
Red: metropolitan routes(kwangyôk), from Seoul to surrounding areas in Gyeonggi-do
Yellow: shuttle routes (sunhwan), going between Seoul and surrounding areas, meant for commuting and shoppers.

Update 3.
The following is from the official Gangnam-gu site (language unaltered):
Reformation of the bus routes and number system
Main line (Blue Bus)
Section: city's outer limits ~ metropolis, metropolis ~ sub-center of metropolis, sub-center ~ sub-center
Number: above 100 (ex: 101)
Local line (Green Bus)
Section: transfer/connection of blue bus and subway, as well as short-distance trips
Number: region + number in the 10s (ex: Dobong02, Gangbuk12)
Loop line (Yellow Bus)
Section: Circling metropolis and sub-center areas
Number: number in the 10s (ex: 01, 12)
Large-area line (Red Bus)
Section: capital and bordering area ~ Seoul metropolis, sub-center
Number: number in the 1000s (ex: 7512)

Categories at del.icio.us/hunjang:

Comments to note "(Korean language) Latin character signs for Seoul bus lines" (Comments to posts older than 14 days are moderated)

<Anonymous Anonymous> said on 28.5.04 : 

Alphabet characters?! The colors are a great idea, but the letter ruins it. Why use anything other than the color? If it's for color-blind folks (mono- and di-chromatic) there are better systems.

I was impressed with Seoul's subway system markings (numbers for the line, station numbers that matched the line, and consistent color usage). The Seoul subway system was MUCH easier for me to use than the Japanese subways - and I've spent a lot of time in Japan. Pity, the bus letters seem like a step backwards.
[ Scott, american_in_japan@hotmail.com]

<Anonymous Anonymous> said on 28.5.04 : 

Antti: In answer to your query, in fact quite a few of these newly colored and lettered buses already are out and about in Seoul.

The business about the letters is much ado about nothing I think. R=Red; the color of that line; G=green, etc.

If there's something that really needs changing about the bus system, it's ensuring that the drivers obey the traffic laws and really penalizing them if they don't. [And while they'r at it, they should get the moto-mogis off the sidewalks and into compliance with traffic regs when they're in the streets too.]


<Anonymous Anonymous> said on 31.5.04 : 

I don't know that numbers make that big a difference for subway stations. When I was last in Pusan (and couldn't read Korean at that point) I asked several people working at the hotel what the station number for a particular subway station was. No one knew! Of course, as natives, they just went by the station name rather than the number.

I don't agree with Antti about the use of the Roman alphabet as being the "wrong kind of modernization". If anything, government programs in society are not leading indicators, but lagging indicators. It just shows that the government authority knows that people won't have any problem recognizing the letters and making the proper identification. In other words, they wouldn't be introducing that system unless they knew beforehand that it wouldn't cause any problems.

In Japan, from where I write, there are several similar examples. In fact, some have expressed the idea that the Roman alphabet has, de facto, become part of the national writing system, albeit unofficially. Everybody knows the letters, understands them, and uses them as needed. They have become a part of daily life. I suspect the same thing has happened in Korea.

<Blogger Antti Leppänen> said on 31.5.04 : 

I do agree that the Roman characters have become de facto part of Korean writing environment, but as far as I understand, less so in any official sense than in Japan. Note that they are very rarely called romaja, but mostly yeongmun (英文) or even just yôngô / yeongeo (英語). But I still have it difficult to accept that Roman characters would be the only marker. But perhaps this is just my attitude of a non-Korean, who also tends to avoid loanwords when speaking Korean...
But this is an interesting discussion, thanks all who have contributed!

<Anonymous Anonymous> said on 31.5.04 : 

I suppose it's ok if latin letters just get used for symbols as in this case. We use arabic numerals and greek letters after all. I wouldn't like to see latin letters being used in mainstream writing though.

<Blogger Antti Leppänen> said on 31.5.04 : 

I forgot to mention that one reason why I think only Roman characters should not be used is that I have acquaintances who have told that they would've liked to send me a postcard or something but writing the address has been a problem. (Which again doesn't mean that they couldn't recognize between R, Y, G, and B.)

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